Last year brought one weather disaster after another. With 2017 in the past, it is best to take a bit of time and figure out how your medical practice is prepared should 2018 be the year a disaster hits your practice.
Are you ready to survive and quickly recover? Remember, the longer your practice is out of business, the greater the impact on your income and the income of your employees.
Check your insurance coverage
Does it cover what might occur? Flood insurance was thought unnecessary by many in New York City before Hurricane Sandy. Do you have such coverage? And what about income replacement? Many physicians have thought about their own ability to practice with disability coverage, but what if your office is closed due to fire, wind, or water? Do you want to add such coverage? At what level, and to provide for whom?
Also, it is a good idea to periodically make sure your property and causality insurance provides the coverage for your office, as equipped now. Some practices have not updated in years, and then, when disaster strikes, they find their coverage inadequate for the new equipment that has been added.
Whether destroyed, damaged, or just inaccessible, do you have a back-up plan to allow you to practice until you can rebuild or relocate? You might want to speak with colleagues and build a mutual aid pact, allowing each of you to share each other’s space on a temporary basis if one is dislocated. Better to draft an agreement now, before there is the stress that comes with a disaster. You may have to see patients in the evenings and on the weekends to accommodate the sharing, but better to get the income flowing than to be without any.
You might also have a meeting with your hospital to see if they would be willing to create a disaster plan that includes the temporary relocation of physician practices to buildings on the campus, and under its disaster plan for heat, lights, and power. It would be a solid benefit of hospital staff privileges to know that you have a place to practice following a disaster.
Your data/medical records
If you are on a cloud-based electronic health record
or practice management system, you have your disaster program in place. You can access your data/medical records from anywhere, even a temporary space. If you have a server-based system, you need to make sure that it is physically secure to the extent you can. Get it out of the cellar and have a daily back up with offsite storage.
If there is any takeaway from these destructive storms, it is that those practices that have not embraced electronic record keeping, especially cloud-based storage, have suffered, at times, irreparable damage. The rest—from space to equipment—is easily replaced, but information—billing and medical information lost—can result in the end of your practice.
Periodically, you should be updating all the means of contacting your staff, phones, cell, and internet. And have that contact list with you, or in multiple places. You will need to be able to marshal your staff to help you overcome whatever has occurred, to let them know what is happening with the practice, and their employment. And, of course, let your patients know.
If you have a cloud-based system with your schedule and records, you can contact your patients if their care/appointments are impacted. If you’re still on paper, then when there is a storm warning, take a few days of your schedule printed out with patient contact information home with you and with your key staff.
In anticipation of an announced storm warning, you should not only stockpile what you need for your family, but also recognize that suppliers’ ability to distribute will likely be limited—stock up as needed for your practice. Depending on your location and situation, you may want to consider such preparedness as a generator for home and office. While some suppliers are good about exchanging spoiled vaccines, others are not. Keeping a refrigerator going may help avoid a loss. And it might not be a bad idea to check with your supplier as to their exchange policy such circumstances.
The rule of thumb is to have 6 months of after-tax income liquid as a personal contingency. For your practice, you might think in terms of a line of credit, set up and available, to be drawn upon. After a disaster is no time to start tying to put together an application for a loan. A line of credit is appropriate in good times, and bad. See your friendly banker.
That personal emergency fund may be needed to ease the disruption of your income while your practice regains its volume and billing/payments start flowing again. Now, remember while a disaster may strike, there is no guarantee that your payers will waive timely filing rules. Often times they do if an area is declared a disaster area, but if it is a personal disaster—a fire, for example—be sure to send certified correspondence to a payer to advise them of what has happened and ask them for an extension of the timely filing rules. Payers are likely to be understanding when advised before they receive bills that should be denied for lack of timely filing. And have a ready appeal if they are not responsive.
While no one wants to dwell on a disaster hitting them, some relatively easy preparation can make such an occurrence just a disruption and less of a disaster.